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America the fat.


For decades, Americans have had a love affair with fat. We've called it many different names--cream, butter, shortening, margarine, cheese--to tone down the blatant ugliness of the word. But to paraphrase Shakespeare, a rose by any other name is still a rose. And fat is still fat--a sticky, greasy, gooey, milky, thick substance that is increasingly the subject of intense scrutiny by health and weight-control experts.

Every morning millions of us open our refrigerator, take out a tub of margarine or butter, pick up the butter knife, and smear our toast with a pat of fat. We fry our eggs and bacon and pour fatty cream or nondairy creamer into our coffee.

For lunch, we spread mayonnaise on our bread or mic mayo into our vegetable or meat salads. Mayonnaise is basically 99 percent fat with a little egg yolk (99 percent cholesterol) and sugar thrown in. Croissant sandwiches are a special treat for some of us. A French croissant has about 200 calories, 130 of which are fat calories. That calculates to about 65 percent calories from fat. A slice of bread has about 75 calories, of which 6 calories are from fat, or about 10 percent of its calories. Add melted cheese (75 percent fat calories) and a frankfurter (80 percent fat calories), and the result is obvious. On the side we often have potato chips (95 percent fat calories). And to balance out this fat feast, we sip a sugar-free diet soda pop.

At dinner time, we continue this love affair with fat. Besides consuming a main entree that is usually a fatty meat, we also bathe our otherwise healthful vegetables, potatoes, or rice with a hefty dose of butter, margarine, or a cheese sauce. And top it off with a dessert that is usually something nice and creamy and, as such, loaded with fat.

Little wonder that Americans are at the top of the scale of the world's consumers of fat. And it's also no wonder that we are leaders in obesity; heart and blood vessel diseases; high blood pressure; gallbladder, liver, and kidney diseases; and breast cancer--all diseases related to diets high in fat.

Now all of this is about to change. In the past two years, more than 500 new fat- and sugar-reduced products have been created. The newest developments center around totally fat-free or fat-reduced products. Many of them will be using new fat substitutes, such as "Olestra" and "Simplesse." More exciting are the new uses of water-soluble gums for thickeners and texturizers for creamy foods, sauces, and baked goods. These gums also help to lower blood cholesterol and blood fat levels.

In the next ten years, you will be on the receiving end of a great deal of scientific research aimed at decreasing the amount of fat in your diet and in processed foods. For the past two decades, scientists have emphasized the necessity of reducing the amount of fat in our diets, as well as the types of fat that we eat, with good reason. All types of blood vessel (vascular) diseases--especially cardiovascular (heart) disease--appear to be directly related to excess fats, and animal and dairy fats. The term "blood vessel" disease means the aging (cracking or scarring) or the accumulation of fatty deposits in your small or large blood vessels. Research has shown that this problem is related to diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Many scientists believe that the premature aging of blood vessels in the brain is in part related to Alzheimer's disease. Gastrointestinal and breast cancer have also been linked to excess consumption of fatty foods (meats, whole eggs, whole milk, cheese, and butter).

In fact, a simple explanation of "aging" is the gradual choking off of blood to your vital organs. This process occurs "naturally" as a function of biological aging. The gradual blocking of large and small blood vessels means less blood flow, less oxygen delivery, less oxygen to your cells, and that sets into motion, the chain reaction of premature aging. When this process happens to your coronary blood vessels, it is called "cardiovascular" disease. The very same process occurring in your brain is "cerebrovascular" disease. In the small blood vessels in the legs, kidneys, and eyes, it is called "diabetes." General blood vessel deterioration (aging) is related to high blood pressure. It is scientific record that excess dietary fat intake is related to the entire aging-degenerative disease process.

For the past 40 years nutritionists have maintained that fat is an essential nutrient, and that a severely restricted fat intake is unhealthful. That's true, but you need much less fat than you actually consume now.

Fat contains two major substances:

Fatty acids--necessary for growth, metabolism, proper use of vitamins and minerals, and the synthesis and uptake of many hormones. Your fatty acid needs can be met by a low-fat (20 percent of calories) eating program.

Glycerides--a secondary source of energy for activity and essential body processes. They are often labeled "triglycerides."

From the standpoint of health, it is important to categorize fats into three separate divisions:

Monounsaturated fats (monos)--olive, peanut, rapeseed (canola), and vegetable oils;

Polyunsaturated fats (polys)--corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, cottonseed, and soy oils;

Saturated fats--lard, animal fats, butter, coconut, and palm oils.

Because monos, polys, and saturated fats are equally high in calories, there is no difference when it comes to weight control. The only difference, visually and texturally, is that polys and monos are thin, or liquid, at room temperature, and saturated fats are thick, creamy, or solid at room temperature. There are differences, healthwise, and these will be discussed also.

You can find each of these fats in the foods you eat, but usually there is a predominant type. Fish and shellfish, for example, are high in a special type of polyunsaturated fat. They also offer a type of polyunsaturated fat that differs from those with which you are probably most familiar--corn, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soy oils, sometimes referred to as "Omega 6" fats. Fish oils offer a different type of polyunsaturated fat often called "Omega 3" oils. These oils have very different effects in our bodies. Omega 3 polys improve the circulation and have been shown to actually lower our blood cholesterol and blood tryglycerides (fat). Excess fats and oils of any kind are not desirable, so beware of the adage "If a little bit is good, a lot should be better."

Chicken and fowl are high in monounsaturated fats, as are vegetable, olive, canola, and peanut oil. These oils are now called the "good" fats. The exceptions are coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil. Coconut and palms are the highest natural source of saturated tropical fats. Along with meat and dairy products, saturated fats tend to be unhealthful.

Remember that the ordinary plant has about 10 percent of its calories from all fats, but the ordinary meat or dairy product has about 75 percent of its calories from all fats.

In general the percentage of fat from calories of each food group is as follows:

Meat 75% (saturated) Chicken 20% (monounsaturated) Fish, shellfish 10% (polyunsaturated) Dairy (whole milk, firm cheese) 75% (saturated) Nuts, seeds 70% (monounsaturated) Vegetables, fruit 10% (monounsaturated)

Obviously, plant foods are lower in fats and calories, offer zero cholesterol, and are high in fiber.

Sorry to throw a monkey wrench into this already complex discussion, but another term is needed to explain the whole story of fats in our diets.

Have you noticed that you buy a bottle of liquid corn oil and a tub of solid corn oil margarine? Both of these are corn oils, purchased as either liquid or solid. The same rule applies to the other vegetable oils. Certain foods require oil in their processing (sauces, salad, dressing, baked goods, margarine, etc.). How can you take oil that is liquid at room temperature and use it in baking, sauces, and margarines to produce a product that requires the oil, or fat, to be solid? The solution is to "hydrogenate" the oil. By hydrogenating the oil, you make the oil solid at room temperature. Hydrogenation, however, is not an improvement from the standpoint of health. Whenever you hydrogenate an oil, you increase its saturation and its ability to raise blood cholesterol as well as its potential to cause cancer. Presently, it is a necessary evil, but with the advent of the new fat substitutes and gums for thickeners and texturizers, hydrogenated fats may soon be a thing of the past.

Most people assume that cholesterol and fat are one and the same. Not true. Cholesterol is essential to life but in a different way. Cholesterol is a key ingredient in the wall of each cell membrane. It is absolutely necessary for the proper metabolism and synthesis of certain hormones--in particular, sex hormones. But the liver manufactures enough cholesterol naturally to meet our needs, so we really never need to add cholesterol to our diets.

Will changes in different people's diets affect their cholesterol levels in the same way? Some people experience major changes with a cholesterol-lowering diet, but others notice only moderate changes. The immediacy of the effect also varies--fast, slow, or anything in-between. Generally, the longer one stays on a cholesterol- and saturated-fat-reduction program, the greater the likelihood one will "max out" with a very safe cholesterol level. About 5 percent of the population are not diet sensitive and in many ways may require medication to lower cholesterol--if it is in a high-risk range.

Most people give up too early because of the challenge of dietary change. Many physicians also resort to drugs before exhausting dietary strategies. All drugs used for lowering cholesterol and other blood fats have significant known side effects (and because the drug is taken on a lielong basis, there are likely other unknown side effects). Consult your physician for further information on cholesterol-lowering drugs, and be firm in asking for a chance to "show your stuff" and try to lower your cholesterol by dietary means.

The only type of fat that directly elevates your blood cholesterol is saturated fat. It has more of an impact on your blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol. That is why dieticians are so emphatic about lowering your saturated fat intake.

All fat is called triglycerides. Both your body fat and your blood fat are called triglycerides. The higher your blood triglycerides, the thicker and stickier your blood, which makes circulation more difficult, increases the tendency to clot, and reduces the amount of oxygen available in your blood. A high intake of polyunsaturated (corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and soy oil) and saturated fat, sugar, and alcohol will increase your blood triglycerides.

Recent medical evidence suggests that a triglyceride level higher than 125 md/dl is considered high risk for all, but particularly for postmenopausal women.

When your blood cholesterol is elevated beyond 200 mg/dl, the risk of cardiovascular disease is also above normal. Blood cholesterol levels are related to the probability of blockages in your coronary arteries. Studies that analyze the composition of artery lesions, or blockages, indicate that cholesterol is a key ingredient. The lower your dietary intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat, the less the likelihood you will experience elevated cholesterol and thus lesions, or blockages, in your arteries.

All polyunsaturated fats and oils tend to lower blood cholesterol. For this reason, they were recommended as a substitute for other types of fats, monos and saturated, in the past. However, recent trends in science downplay the role plant-based polys should play in your diet and food preparation, because health problems--cancer and gallbladder disease--have been linked to the use of polyunsaturated fats in high amounts. In the immediate future you will notice less emphasis placed on them and more on plant oils based on monounsaturated fats. Safflower, sunflower, corn, walnut, and soybean oils are high in polyunsaturates. Don't wait--change now to monounsaturated fats and lower your fat intake.

Olive, peanut, rapeseed (canola), avocado, sesame, and vegetable oils are high in monounsaturated fats. These oils can lower your blood cholesterol moderately. And their safety record is excellent. People have eaten monos for thousands of years, and you will see increasing reliance upon them when fat is required in a recipe, or recommended by health groups. When you see the term "vegetable oil," it is likely to be a high-mono oil.

Dietary intake of saturated fat tends to increase your blood cholesterol more so than the actual intake of cholesterol. In fact, there are other potential health problems. A recent international study found that saturated fat intake was closely related to colon and rectal cancer prevalence.

Meats, whole milk, and dairy products are very high in saturated fat, as are coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil. These three oils, termed "tropical fats," are used primarily because their excellent flavor masks the unpalatability of other oils used in foods. For the most part, they are used quite sparingly, and their overall inclusion in our processed food supply amounts to about 5 percent of the total oils used in food processing. The recent scare that we are being "poisoned" by food processors who use these oils is not substantiated by their very low usage pattern. Obviously, you should reduce, or avoid, all unnecessary intake of saturated fats and the foods containing them or prepared with them.

Your strategy should be to reduce your dietary intake of all fats and oils to about 20 percent of your caloric intake. You should be very emphatic about eliminating or greatly reducing the amount of oil used in food preparation. With this program you have an additional "safety margin" for caloric intake and health.

Steven M. Zifferblatt, Ph.D., is the director of the Better Life Institute, a cofounder of the LaCosta Lifestyle and Longevity Center, and a former associate director of the Pritikin Longevity Center. He has held research and faculty positions at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and at Harvard and Stanford Medical Schools.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Zifferblatt, Steven M.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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